CDS News

  • November 4, 2016

How do your patients afford you?

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What’s the repeating refrain about dental work? “It’s too expensive” or “I can’t afford that.”

Dentists looking to treat their patients with comprehensive – and appropriate – care must cringe at those kinds of reactions. But they should see such impressions as a call to action: how can I offer my patients the dental work they need without overwhelming them – or worse, driving them away – over the cost?

Surveys indicate that patients would like dentists to offer comprehensive financing options, particularly for more expensive procedures, though many dentists still don’t feel they need to offer outside patient financing. In fact, in a survey conducted by Hiner & Partners for dental CPAs, 73 percent of patients surveyed felt their dental office was “looking out for them if financing options were offered,” dental management consultant Dr. Roger Levin recently observed.

Think of flexible financing programs as old-fashioned "customer service," a part of your practice that shows patients you have their dental as well as their financial interests in mind. Your reward likely will be loyal patients, improved case acceptance and better treatment outcomes.

Patients are “consumers” of your product, as the business consultants like to say. A recent article about “21st Century Dentistry” in the dental industry publication “Sidekick” noted that rising insurance premiums and deductibles are cutting into household budgets and consequently changing patients’ behavior across the healthcare system, including dentistry. Patients, the article noted, “are questioning their providers’ recommendations, researching costs and reviews of other providers, and even putting off care altogether.”

The article points to a report prepared for the American Dental Association – “Critical Trends Affecting the Future of Dentistry” – that tracks the change to the rise in out-of-pocket costs for dental care. According to the report, out-of-pocket payments constitute an eye-opening 42 percent of dental expenditures, compared to only 11 percent of health expenditures. That has fueled a shift in patients’ sensibilities, leading them to see themselves as “health-care consumers” who must probe and assess how their health care dollars are spent.

Some dental practices have come to see financing programs not just as a convenience for their patients but also as imperative to adapt to changing patient attitudes, according to Dr. Levin and his consulting firm.

The Levin Group advises dentists to offer:

  • 5 percent off for cash upfront on any case more than $300
  • Acceptance of credit cards
  • At least half the fee paid at the start of treatment and the remainder paid before the final treatment begins and
  • Outside patient financing, offered by various companies like Citi Health Card or CareCredit, which approve a patient for a line of credit or a loan. Such outside financing options relieve the dental practice of staff time and money spent on collections, Dr. Levin noted.    

Since change is the only constant, developing a flexible and diverse complement of patient financing options may pay dividends for dental practices looking to strengthen patient loyalty at a time of unprecedented change in health care.  

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email topics you wish to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
Photo: Copyright Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com